3 Tell-Tale Signs You Suffer From Impostor Syndrome

Posted: 23rd February 2024

Have you ever felt like you’re just one step away from being exposed as a fraud? That lurking fear that, despite your achievements, you’re not nearly as capable as others think you are? While it’s normal to experience moments of self-doubt, for some, these feelings run deeper, infiltrating every aspect of their lives.

This perpetual state of self-doubt isn’t just a passing phase; it’s a phenomenon known as impostor syndrome. Those who grapple with this syndrome often find themselves living in constant fear, plagued by the belief that they will be uncovered as frauds. This fear can permeate every facet of their lives, from their professional endeavors to their personal relationships. If left unchecked, these maladaptive thought patterns can lead to debilitating levels of burnout and stress.

The Most Common Signs Of Impostor Syndrome

Impostor syndrome—also known as impostor phenomenon, fraud syndrome or perceived fraudulence—occurs when “high-achieving individuals who, despite their objective success, fail to internalize their own accomplishments,” According to research from the Journal of General Internal Medicine. The authors explain that this phenomenon often manifests in three ways:

  1. Persistent self-doubt. Impostor syndrome often presents as a persistent and pervasive feeling of self-doubt. Despite external evidence of competence and success, individuals experiencing impostor syndrome may struggle to accept that they are competent and capable. Because of this, they often attribute their achievements to factors outside of their control or abilities. This pattern of self-doubt can undermine their confidence and lead to feelings of inadequacy, even in situations where they objectively perform well. Importantly, these feelings are often not based on reality, but rather on distorted perceptions of one’s abilities.
  2. Attributing success to luck or external factors. People with impostor syndrome often have difficulty internalizing their achievements. Instead of attributing their successes to their own abilities and hard work, they instead chalk their successes up to luck, timing or the support of others. This tendency to discount their own contributions can perpetuate feelings of fraudulence and reinforce the belief that they don’t deserve their accomplishments. It can also lead to a cycle of seeking external validation to confirm their worth, further fueling feelings of impostorism.
  3. Fear of being exposed as a fraud. One of the hallmark features of impostor syndrome is a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud. Despite outward signs of competence and achievement, individuals with impostor syndrome often live in fear of being “found out” or exposed as lacking in abilities or knowledge. This fear can manifest as anxiety, stress and avoidance of situations where they might be evaluated or judged. They may engage in perfectionistic behaviors to overcompensate for their perceived shortcomings or avoid taking on new challenges altogether to avoid the risk of failure.


The authors further highlight how truly debilitating this syndrome can become if not identified or treated. According to the findings, there is a strong negative correlation between impostorism and both job performance and job satisfaction. The constant nagging voice at the back of one’s mind echoing self-sabotaging thoughts, convincing them that they’re not good enough, can throw sufferers into a cycle of overcompensation and perfectionism–often resulting in severe burnout.


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How To Tell If You Have Impostor Syndrome

Due to the serious negative consequences that such self-deprecating thoughts can have, studies have aimed to find ways in which to identify these cognitive patterns. Research from the European Journal of Psychological Assessment resulted in an instrument to measure its severity, which respondents can use by rating their level of agreement to each of the following statements:

  1. I’m afraid people important to me may find out that I’m not as capable as they think I am.
  2. When I’ve succeeded at something and received recognition for my accomplishments, I have doubts that I can keep repeating that success.
  3. I’m afraid that I may fail at a new assignment or undertaking even though I generally do well at what I attempt.
  4. I feel or believe that my success in my life or in my job has been the result of luck instead of ability.
  5. I compare my ability to those around me and think they may be more intelligent than I am.
  6. I feel my success was due to some kind of luck rather than competence.
  7. I tend to remember the incidents in which I have not done my best more than those times I have done my best.
  8. I worry about not succeeding with a project or on an examination, even though others around me have considerable confidence that I will do well.
  9. If I receive a great deal of praise and recognition for something I’ve accomplished, I tend to discount the importance of what I have done.
  10. It’s hard for me to accept compliments or praise about my intelligence or accomplishments.

Identifying impostor syndrome is the first step toward overcoming its grip. If any of these resonate with you, it may be time to confront the impostor within. This syndrome isn’t just a minor inconvenience; it can become a silent killer of confidence and self-esteem. The constant barrage of self-doubt and the irrational fear of being exposed as a fraud can be suffocating, casting a shadow over your true abilities and potential.

Despite how demotivating impostor syndrome can feel, its effects do not dictate your destiny. Success rarely happens by chance. By discounting your role in your achievements, you diminish your sense of agency and rob yourself of the recognition you deserve. By recognizing the signs of impostor syndrome and challenging its grip, you can reclaim your sense of self-worth and embrace your accomplishments with confidence and humility.

Is your fear of being “outed” as an impostor burning you out? Take the Impostor Syndrome Scale to find out.

Source: 3 Tell-Tale Signs You Suffer From Impostor Syndrome (forbes.com)

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